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  • #46
    To make things fair, I nulled out the two signals coming into the mixer as closely as possible (which was pretty close to zero volume) - I'm well aware of how just a few dB of difference can screw up A-B tests.

    Although I really wasn't expecting that much of a difference, I was pretty surprised at how obvious the difference was when comparing the two sets of channels. You know how people talk about a "wider soundstage" with good converters? That was the first and most notable thing. So much so, in fact, that I double-checked my settings to make sure that the audio ins coming from the DA-30 were, in fact, panned hard left and right; it sounded like they weren't. Yes, it was that obvious.

    The second thing I noticed was the high frequencies. With the Lynx converters, the highs were very well defined and clean. With the DA-30s converters, it sounds like they'd been sort of blurred, the way a graphics program does a Gaussian blur, where differences in color are minimized. I wouldn't say it was a question of tonality (sweeter, harsher, whatever), it's just that the highs were more accurately, and better, represented.

    The third big change, and this surprised me the most, was that the dynamic range of the Lynx sound was clearly better. The DA-30's outs had a flat, almost compressed quality.

    But why? It was 16-bit source material, so the better bit resolution in the Lynx shouldn't have made a difference...right? The sample rate was the same, they were feed the same mixer, etc. etc. But clearly, the Lynx sound had more internal dynamics. By that I mean the peaks weren't higher or anything; it's just that within the mix itself, there was not only more definition, but at least the sense of a wider dynamic range.

    This reminded me a lot of reviewing the ADL600 tube preamp, which had a very similar sort of clarity within a mix. In that case, I was determined to find out whether I was hearing things or not, and did a 3D spectrum analysis of the signal. Sure enough, you could actually see that the peaks and values had just plain more detail.

    So again, why? Here's my theory: I think that the really low noise levels of the Lynx are probably the main contributing factor. I think noise is sort of the audio equivalent of dust. Think about a monitor with dust on it versus one that you just cleaned: The image is pretty much the same, but the one without dust has more definition and clarity. That's pretty much analogous to what I was hearing when comparing the two signals.

    As to the superior highs, I chalk that up to better converter technology and circuit design. The smoothing filters and such are just way better these days than they were when the DA-30 came into the world.

    Regarding the soundstage, the common explanation there is that if there's no jitter, there's better stereo imaging because the left and right signals stay "glued" to the left and right channels rather than wandering a bit. Makes sense to me. But I also wonder if the heavy-duty power supply design in the Lynx might have an effect as well in terms of keeping the two separare channels truly separate.

    In fact, make it's time to attach some of those interviews I did with the Lyxnologists at NAMM...or maybe I proceed to listening test #2. In any event, right now it's time to put dinner together, so...see ya later!
    Simplicity, my new album project, is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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    • #47
      For this test, I wanted to do a one-on-one test of the DA converters in the Aurora 8 and the Panasonic DA7 mixer. Now, even though the DA7 is an older piece of gear and a mixer, not a specialized converter, the backstory on it was that Panasonic had developed a really big-bucks console for NHK in Japan, and the DA7 was a spinoff that basically took advantage of the fact that the converters had to be made in a certain quantity to make production feasible. So, for the time it had seriously overachieving converters, and they were several steps up from the converters in the DA-30 that I used for the first listening test.

      For this test, I ran the DA-30 SPDIF out into the DA7's SPDIF digital input, and ran it through the mixer's D/A converters to an ADAM A7. The DA-30 AES/EBU went to the Aurora 8, where it was shuttled out through the Aurora 8's D/A converter and directly to the input on a second A7. As I didn't have two sets of speakers for comparison, I simply sent the left channel through each one -- with the Aurora, by connecting only one of the analog outs; and with the DA7, by muting one channel and panning the other one.

      I didn't know what to expect, which was a good thing because there were definite differences. The DA7 had a full, but less defined, low end. The Aurora 8's bass was much tighter; you could really "feel" the hit of the kick, whereas with the DA7, the hit sort of blended in with the low end to give a more amorphous, but nonetheless pleasing, low end. Also, the Aurora sounded like it distributed the frequencies more evenly throughout the spectrum; the DA7 had a slightly "boxier" and less "open" sound.

      However, I should emphasize that while I could hear differences, they were quantitative, not qualitative. As to the midrange, the Aurora again had a clear edge in terms of definition and detail. I'm beginning to think that maybe this is the Aurora "signature sound." The high end held up surprisingly well on the DA7, which was interesting because that was one of the characteristics that attracted me to it in the first place. (Part of it was also the EQ, which sounded unusually sweet compared to other digital mixers of its day. Only later did I find out that internally, the EQ was being sampled at 88.2kHz when the board was theoretically running at 44.1kHz - the same basic principle as to why Guitar Rig and AmpliTube 2 sound so much better when you select "high resolution" mode. But I digress...)

      I would say that the Aurora's highs were somewhat less "smeary" and while I should probably check a thesaurus, I'm going to trot out the word "defined" once more. I already gave the dust-on-the-monitor analogy so I won't bore you with it again, but that was equally valid here...there was just a whole lot less dust than with the DA-30's converters.
      Simplicity, my new album project, is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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      • #48
        Craig, you need some Apogee, Lavry and Myteks in there for comparison though as people looking to step up from MOTU / RME need a frame of reference and a cost/benefit analysis of where these fall in between. Unless they are immediately head and shoulders above those types of units (the MOTU's and RME's) AD/DA many might choose the additional expense of (and fewer channels of) a two channel unit like a Lavry or Mytek or Apogee.


        Well companies aren't into the habit of sending me expensive hardware to have around just in case I need to do comparisons, but actually, the reason why I'm making the comparisons I am - to gear that admittedly is not in the same league as the Aurora - is because once you get into the big bucks land of first-class gear, it becomes increasingly difficult to find universal agreement on what sounds "better." I think that's because the differences are relatively small, no matter what marketing departments would like you to believe

        I'm guessing that a lot of people reading this review are doing so to find out what you surmise - whether it's worth stepping up from units that costs in the hundreds of dollars instead of thousands. I also wanted to start with older converters and move to the present to have a "frame of reference" and a sense of continuity.

        So far, there is no question that the Aurora sounds better than less expensive units. No surprise there, I guess, but it's the degree of "sounds better" that interests me: This "definition" quality I keep referring to. It makes listening to music more pleasurable, but on the flip side, it's pretty brutal in exposing things like digital distortion for what it is. (If you think digital distortion is bad, wait until you hear high-definition digital distortion - trust me, it does NOT sound better!)

        But to those who don't have a few kilobucks laying around, take heart in the fact that a good mix is going to sound good, whether it's over hundred dollar or thousand dollar converters. The material trumps the playback device every time. Having said that, though, listening through something with a high degree of definition isn't just about more pleasurable listening, or being able to make smoother mixes; there's less ear fatigue, which I believe is an incredibly important quality if you're going to spend hours and hours sitting in front of speakers trying to create the ultimate mix. You have to keep your ears fresh, and something like the Aurora helps to promote that.

        Well, that's enough for tonight...
        Simplicity, my new album project, is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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        • #49
          We interrupt this Pro Review to bring you some...Master Class seminars! For all the geeks and tech heads in the crowd, I cornered Bob Bauman and Paul Erlandson of Lynx at the 2007 Winter NAMM show, and asked them to dish the dirt on what really goes into engineering and designing converters.

          In this first part, Bob talks about some general considerations involving converter design. To hear this audio files:

          (Windows) INTERNET EXPLORER: Left-click on the attachement name below. Click Open to open in Windows Media Player, click Save to save to the desktop.
          (Mac) SAFARI: Click on the attachment name below; it will be opened in iTunes.
          Simplicity, my new album project, is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

          Subscribe, like, and share the links!

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          • #50
            This section covers converter front ends, and some of the design decisions involved in creating this type of product.
            Simplicity, my new album project, is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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            • #51
              I think this one is particularly interesting, as Bob talks about how different types of resistors and capacitors affect the sound...thick film vs. thin film resistors, electrolytic capacitors, etc.
              Simplicity, my new album project, is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

              Subscribe, like, and share the links!

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              • #52
                This segment talks about the basic principles of clocking with converters. In a later post, Paul Erlandson talks about whether you really need external clocking or not, and whether people might find some types of jitter subjectively pleasing.
                Simplicity, my new album project, is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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                • #53
                  Circuit board design has a major influence on the sound of a converter. In this segment, Bob explains the lengths you need to go to with circuit boards if you want to have good analog performance in a digital environment.
                  Simplicity, my new album project, is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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                  • #54
                    In this final segment from Bob, he touches on how power supply design affects converter performance.
                    Simplicity, my new album project, is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

                    Subscribe, like, and share the links!

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                    • #55
                      In this first of two parts, Paul Erlandson talks about the practice of using external clocks. Does it really make a difference? Check it out...
                      Simplicity, my new album project, is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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                      • #56
                        Here's the concluding segment about the pros and cons of using external master clocks.
                        Simplicity, my new album project, is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

                        Subscribe, like, and share the links!

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                        • #57
                          LYNX AURORA 8: ERLANDSON ON MULTICHANNEL I/O, PART 1

                          Is the ADAT light pipe the only game in town for multichannel I/O? In this first of two parts, Paul Erlandson explains why AES/EBU is ideal for multichannel digital transfers.
                          Simplicity, my new album project, is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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                          • #58
                            This segment concludes not only Paul Erlandson's comments on multichannel I/O, but also this series of tutorials.
                            Simplicity, my new album project, is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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                            • #59
                              FYI: I'm travelling until Thursday and since I can't bring my studio with me, this pro review will be on a short hiatus.
                              Simplicity, my new album project, is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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                              • #60
                                Having checked out the software and the D/A, I figured it was time to check out the D/A conversion. However, one thing I've noticed is that setting the Aurora 8 up for different tests seems "against the grain" of what it really wants to do, which is sit in a rack, have its appropriate cables connected, and sit there all day to do what it does best.

                                So, let me describe the test procedure first. I like using different types of material, as different material spotlights different strengths and weaknesses of the conversion process.

                                My reference A/D is the one in my Panasonic DA7 mixer, which as explained previously, are somewhat overachieving at this price point because they appropriate technology developed for a far more expensive console. Still, these are older 24-bit technology, so I was expecting to have some kind of meaningful difference compared to what I would get from the Lynx.

                                I devised three tests. The first one was creating a mono guitar, drum machine, and narration mix in the DigiTech GNX4 recorder. I split one audio out into the DA7, and the other into a Lynx analog input. A Lynx digital output fed the DA7's digital in, bypassing the DA7's conversion process. This type of signal source is good for checking out pure bass range and to see how the converters react to any aliasing or funkiness that might be created by a relatively low-cost, do-all digital device.

                                The next test involved two recordings. The first was Astor Piazzolla's "Love Tanguedia." For those not familiar with Astor Piazzolla, he was an Argentinian who pretty much invented the whole "nuevo tango" movement, which added jazz and classical influences to traditional tango. Aside from giving me something to listen to that I like, the mix of violin, bandoneon, double bass, electric guitar, and piano provided a rich, warm group of signal sources.

                                The second recording was Angelique Kidjo's Oyaya!, which is Afropop and has plenty of percussion and vocals to run the high frequencies through the ringer. I wouldn't hesistate to recommend CDs from either artist, by the way.

                                But I had one more task to do. I opened the test selections in Peak 5.2, mixed the stereo tracks to mono, then duplicated the mono track in both channels and burned a new CD. This way, I could be assured the same signal was going to both the DA7's analog in and the Lynx digital in. For playback, I took the balanced outputs from my Alesis Masterlink (the only CD player I have with balanced outs).

                                At the DA7, I panned each of the test channels to center to avoid the effects of any possible differences between the two ADAM A7 speakers I use for monitoring (although I really can't hear any differences between the two), and enabled both channels. To have the same level difference, I temporarily inverted the phase of one of the channels and adjusted levels for nulling. However, this also required delaying the signal coming from the Lynx somewhat. I don't really understand why this should be so; I would think that it takes a finite amount of time to convert analog into digital, with the only real variable being sample rate. Yet it seems the Lynx converts audio faster than the DA7; or maybe there are other delays caused by going into an analog input instead of a digital input of which I'm not aware. Perhaps someone at Lynx could explain what's happening in my setup that makes the Lynx seem "speedier."

                                Now that I was set up and ready to go, I could enable one channel or the other and do A-B comparisons.
                                Simplicity, my new album project, is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

                                Subscribe, like, and share the links!

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